Looking to learn more about the Kham Region before traveling to Tibet?

The present Tibetan cultural areas are found in Central Tibet (TAR), Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces covering total area of 2,255,000 square kilometers (870,000 square miles). Traditionally all these Tibetan cultural areas are divided into three regions based on geographical formation, dialect differences and cultural uniqueness.

Ü-Tsang or the Central Tibet representing the starting point of Tibetan civilization and cultural center that covers the central and western portion of Tibetan cultural area including the valley of the Yarlung Tsangpo River (Brahmaputra River watershed), and the western regions of Tibet from Gyantse west. U-Tsang, also known as Central Tibet, lies entirely within the modern day Tibet Autonomous Region.

Amdo or the northern part of Tibet covers northeast region of Tibetan Plateau or the modern Qinghai, southwest part of Gansu and part of northern Sichuan Province. Approximately 25% of the total Tibetan population is from Amdo. Amdo is the birthplace of the Tsongkhapa, late 10th Panchen Lama and the current 14th Dalai Lama. The famous Qinghai Lake and Kubum Monastery are also located in Qinghai Amdo region.

Kham or the East Tibet is located in the southeastern portion of the Tibetan Plateau. It is characterized by deep river valleys that give way to high snow-covered peaks. Many of Asia’s longest and most important rivers begin in Kham including the Yellow, Mekong, Yangtze and Salween rivers. Kham is found in the eastern portion of the Tibet Autonomous Region as well as southern Qinghai, western Sichuan and northwest Yunnan provinces. Roughly 35% of the total Tibetan population is from Kham. Kham is also known as ‘The Land of People’ because of the Khampa’s unique characteristics and personalities. Dege Parkhang or the Dege Printing house, built in 1729 by the 40th Dege King Tenpa Tsering, is a treasure of Tibetan Art and Culture which is a living institution devoted to the printing and preservation of Tibetan literature, a printing temple that holds the greatest number of Tibetan woodblocks in the world. It keeps more than 200,000 blocks of religious, historical, literature and art, medical, astronomical and calendar-arithmetical book editions in Tibetan. At the present Sertha Larung Gar and Yachen Monastery is Kham are the largest monasteries not only in whole Tibetan areas but around the world.

History and Characteristics of Kham

Traditionally Kham was referred to as Chushi Gagdruk meaning Four Rivers and Six Ranges according to which the people of Kham have endured a dynamic past; their their sovereignty often encroached upon and marginalized by both Tibetans to the west and the Han Chinese to the East. The five main independent regions were the Kingdom of Chakla, Derge, the Kingdom of Minyak, Lingtsang, Nangchen and the Kingdom of Lhatok. Other important polities included Chamdo, Batang, Mili, and the Hor States.

Kham has a rugged terrain characterized by mountain ridges and gorges running from northwest to southeast, and collectively known as the Hengduan Mountains. Some of the greatest rivers of Asia Continental originate from Kham.

Under the modern administrative division of People’s Republic of China, Kham includes a total of 50 contemporary counties of the People’s Republic of China which have been incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan (16 counties), Yunnan (three counties), and Qinghai (six counties) as well as the eastern portion of the Tibet Autonomous Region (25 counties).

The people of Kham were reputed warriors renowned for their marksmanship and horsemanship. In her book entitled ‘Sichuan’s Western Paradise’ Pamela Logan states, “Once Khampas were notorious as a race of bandits, their reputation for mayhem spreading all over the Himalaya. They made a fearsome impression on outsiders, like Michel Peissel, an anthropologist who met them in 1964: “Khampas stood a good six feet in height,… wore great heavy boots and flowing khaki robes that flapped like whips as they walked, advancing with their feet slightly apart as if to trample the grass to extinction….Unlike Tibetans of Lhasa, their features were not Mongoloid, but straight, with large fierce eyes set beside beak- like noses, and long hair braided and wound around their heads, giving them a primitive allure.” She continues to write “To be sure, nowadays banditry has been all but eliminated. Yet the proud Khampa spirit remains and their rugged land still defies outsiders. Those who surmount Kham’s barriers are rewarded by a mountain paradise virtually untouched by the outside world.”

Some Famous Mountains of Kham

Khawa Karpo or Meili Snow Mountain

Khawa Karpo Mountain rises between the Salween River (called Nu Jiang in China ) and the Mekong River (called Lancang Jiang in China) in the extreme edge of Northwest Yunnan Province. The region, still largely wilderness, is part of three parallel Rivers of Yunnan protected Areas, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 2003. A report by WCMC (World Conservation Monitoring Center) on this wonderful nature park concluded that “This is an area of unparalleled biological diversity, unusually explicit geological and landscape variety and great scenic beauty.”

Minyak Riwo Ghangkar ot Mount Gongga

Riwo Ghangkar lies in the transitional zone between Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and Sichuan Basin . The main peak (7,556 ms) is the highest peak of Sichuan Province , called “The King of Shu Mountains “. The high and steep mountain is covered with thaw-less snow. If visitors look at the mountain from far, it seems to float above a vast snow-sea. In this zone, there are many natural sights, such as ancient glacier relics, modern glaciers, virgin forests, hot springs , lakes, snow peaks, etc.

Mount Gongga is a very important genic storeroom for species in the world, and also one of the best representatives in the whole globe biogeographical zone. It has very important protection value and scientific research values.


Dege Chola Mountain

Dege Chola Mountain (Que`er Shan in Chinese) traverses from northwest to southeast in the Derge County. It covers an area of 7346 square kilometers. The highest peak Rongme Ngatra is 6168m (20,236 ft), is known as ‘the peak that even the eagle cannot fly over’. Other significant peaks include Dophu Ngatra (6,119m) and Zhiltrön (5,988m). All three peaks have glaciers on their northern faces and the entire range possesses almost twelve glaciers in total with some descending as low as 4,100 metres (13,500 ft).

Since 1998 when a Chino-Japan team climbed to the top, very few other people have succeeded. There are over 30 glaciers in the Chola Mountain area, among which the two glaciers stretching respectively along the valleys at the north side and the southeast side of the main peak join at the altitude 4300m and pour into the Yillhun Lhatso Lake.

Historical Monasteries in Kham Region

Shechen Monastery

Shechen Monastery was found in 1695 by Shechen Rabjam Tenpé Gyaltsen who was sent to Kham with this purpose by the 5th Dalai Lama with. It became extremely influential in the 18th and 19th centuries as one of the most important monastery in Kham. It belongs to Nyingmapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism and it ranks as the one of most six most important monasteries of this sect.

Many great masters came forth from Shechen Monastery including Shechen Gyaltsab, Shechen Kongtrul, Khenpo Gangshar, and the sage Mipham Rinpoche. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Chögyam Trungpa and many other important 20th century teachers received teachings at the monastery.

Dzogchen Moanstery

Dzogchen Monastery is one of the six great monasteries of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. It is located within modern day Dêgê County, Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan, China. This monastery was founded by Pema Rigdzin, 1st Dzogchen Rinpoche in 1684. Beside Shenchen monastery, Dzogchen Monastery used to be one of the two most important monasteries in Kham.

During the time of Thubten Chökyi Dorje, 5th Dzogchen Rinpoche (1872-1935), Dzogchen Monastery was at the peak of its activity, with up to five hundred monks residing, 13 retreat centres, and an estimated two hundred and eighty branches – a gathering of which would have seen tens of thousands of lamas, tulkus, khenpos, monks and nuns. Throughout the year, an extensive array of complex ritual ceremonies was accomplished. Dzogchen was also one of the most famous centers of sacred ritual dance, now commonly known as lama dancing.

Among the great masters to have lived and taught at Dzogchen are Khenpo Pema Vajra, Patrul Rinpoche, Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso and Khenpo Shenga. It eventually grew into the largest Nyingma monastery of all time.

Kathog Monastery

Monastery is located 4,000m above sea level on the eastern flanks of a mountain range in Baiyu County, Garze, Sichuan. This monastery is one of the six principal monasteries of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Katok Monastery was founded in 1159 by a younger brother of Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo, Katok Dampa Deshek, at Derge, the historic seat of the Kingdom of Derge in Kham.

Katok Monastery’s third abbot, Jampa Bum (1179-1252), whose 26-year tenure as abbot ended in 1252, “is said to have ordained thousands of monks from across Tibet, and especially from Kham region of Minyak , Jang  and Gyalrong. Katok Monastery held a reputation of fine scholarship. Before 1950s, Katok Monastery housed about 800 monks. Katok was long renowned as a center specializing in the oral lineages  and as a center of monasticism.

Palpung Monastery

Palpung Monastery was founded by the 8th Tai Situ in 1727 with the help of Dege King Denba Tsering . It is located a hillside close to Babang village with altitude of 3900M. Palpung means “glorious union of study and practice”. It is the seat of four lines of incarnate lamas, the best-known being the Tai Situpa as well as the Jamgon Kongtrul and the Second Beru Khyentse.

Palpung monaster has long historical connection with Karmapa, as the 16th Karmapa being enthroned first at Palpung before traveling to his main seat at Tsurphu Monastery in Ü-Tsang. The Karmapas and Tai Situpas have been connected closely over time, alternating as master and disciple.

The monastery once hosted more than 1000 monks and had one of the most leading monastic universities of the area. It is the seat of various lines of incarnate lamas, the best known being the Tai Situ and the Jamgon Kongtrul. Palpung Library holds more than 324,000 texts and an art collection of over 10,150 thangkas. In 1998-1999 it was added to the list of worldwide endangered list of monuments

Lithang Monastery

The Litang Monastery Founded in 1580 at the appointment of Dalai Lama III, the Litang Monastery, at its crest in history, was the largest temple in the Kham region with 400 magnificent palaces and over 3700 monks. But in the Qing Dynasty, the temple was destroyed badly by the government. After the liberation, the religious laws were carried out carefully. Through the recent 20 years’ restoration, the Litang Monastery has got very rapid progress. They founded the Temple Management Committee, which are in charge of the monastery administration.

Sumtsen Ling Monastery

Also known as the Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery, is situated 5 kilometres from the city of Zhongdian (Shangri-la County) at elevation 3,380 metres (11,090 ft) in Yunnan province. It established in 1679 by the 5th Dalai Lama with full patronage support from Kangxi Emperor of Qing Dynasty and completed in 1681. The 5th Dalai Lama Ngawang Lozang Gyatso personally gave the monastery the name “Ganden Sumgtsen Ling”. This monastery is the largest and one of the oldest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in present Yunnan’s Kham region. It is also the centre of the Gelug Sect for the Tibetan-inhabited areas of Sichuan and Yunnan, holding a key position in these areas.

The monastery was built accordance with traditional Tibetan architectural style. At its peak, the monastery contained accommodation for 2,000 monks; it currently accommodates in its rebuilt structures 700 monks in 200 associated houses with six main structures including eight colleges.

Dengqing Monastery

The Dengqing Monastery, located in Xiongtuo village, Zhongzhake town, Dege County, other name as Dijin or Dingqing monastery, is the earliest Bhon (Anceint Tibetan Religion) sect monastery in Kham, more than 1200 year old. With the qualification of awarding the Zhaba as Lama, it has the highest education system of Bhon sect in Gansu , Qinghai and Sichuan . In 1983, the monastery was opened to the outside, and the religion routines are operated under the government of Temple Management Committee.

Jampaling Monastery

Chamdo or Qamdo is a major town in the historical region of Kham now located in the eastern Tibet Autonomous Region of China. In 1373 Tsongkhapa visited Qamdo durng which he suggested that a monastery be build, thereby Tsongkhapa’s deciple Jangsem Sherab Sangpo started the monastery’s contruction 1436 and completed in 1444. At its height it contained five main temples and housed some 2,500 monks. According to tradition there were 3000 monks with Jangsem Sherab Zangpo when establishing the monastery, and some more than 2000 at the beginning of the 19th century.